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Enchanted Hills Camp

Looking for a Summer Job? Spend the Summer at Enchanted Hills Camp

Looking for a Summer Job? Spend the Summer at Enchanted Hills Camp

Do you love the outdoors? Want to work with youth who are blind or have low vision? Would you like to boost your resume? Then why not come spend the summer at Enchanted Hills Camp (EHC)? We’re hiring for several seasonal positions.  With 311 acres, we’ve got plenty of outdoor space and will be following all CDC guidelines for summer camps.

We’re looking for camp counselors, an assistant director, a nurse and program area leaders. Program area leaders develop and oversee different categories of activities of campers. This year we’re looking for leaders for aquatics, nature, arts & crafts, recreation, enrichment and equestrian activities.

If you are creative, adaptable and can communicate a blindness-positive philosophy to others we encourage you to read through the EHC job descriptions on our careers page and apply. If you know someone who’d be a great fit for a summer job at EHC please, pass this info along.

If you have any questions about camp reach out to ehc@lighthouse-sf.org.

Speaking of camp, we just learned how one camp supporter raised some funds…in a hurry.

Thank You for Supporting Us on Giving Tuesday

Thank You for Supporting Us on Giving Tuesday

Hooray! Well done! Thanks to the unwavering support of our generous donors, staff and Board members, we raised over $110,000 and exceeded our goal on Giving Tuesday.

 The Giving Tuesday thermometer above shows $112,657. This is 112% of the goal reached.

Thank you for joining the #GivingTuesday movement to help protect Enchanted Hills Camp. Funds raised this year will purchase a much-needed tractor for Enchanted Hills and send 50 kids to Camp next year.

We are grateful for your connection and commitment.

Photo of Green John Dear tractor moving cut trees

Thank you to the over 150 people who contributed to our Giving Tuesday campaign 2020! You enabled us to buy a tractor for Enchanted Hills to reduce fire hazards and send 50 blind kids to camp. What a tremendous outpour of support for our community.

Special thanks to:

Jennison Asuncion
Janette Barrios
Marilyn Brown
Jennifer and Ken Bunt
Sandy Cademartori
Lisa Carvalho and David Mager
Johnny Dadlani
Michael and Leslye Dellar
Chris and Rosa Downey
Engineering350
Nancy Foss
Jonathan Funk
The Herbst Foundation
Humanware
Drew Kebbel
Tony Keyser
Jerry Kuns
Barbara Lassen
Eric and Jaclyne Mah
John and Cindy McGaffey
Jane Micks
Geoffrey Murray
Michael Nunez
Luciana Profaca
Sharon & Richard Sacks
Kurt Scheidt
Michelle Touw
Walter E & Barbara A Bauke Foundation

Donate to Enchanted Hills Camp

You’re Invited: Virtual Grand Opening Celebration of Enchanted Hills Camp’s New Pool Bathhouse, November 14

You’re Invited: Virtual Grand Opening Celebration of Enchanted Hills Camp’s New Pool Bathhouse, November 14

Join us on our Enchanted Hills Camp Facebook page, on Saturday, November 14 at 12:30 pm for an architect-guided tour of the new pool bathhouse. A Facebook account is not required. If you tune in to the event, you’ll have a chance to enter a free raffle to win an Enchanted Hills Camp 70th Anniversary sweatshirt during the live celebration.

This summer, campers attended camp sessions virtually from the safety of their homes and we took this opportunity to accelerate the rebuilding of EHC after the 2017 wildfires destroyed half of the structures at camp. The rebuilt pool bathhouse follows the rebuilding of the camp storage barn and pool shade structure.

The new bathhouse will provide spacious shower and bathroom facilities for 64 campers using our interim canvas bungalows. It became vital to replace the pool bathhouse, to provide 24-hour access to showers, restrooms, a guide dog shade area and drinking fountains for campers. As an added safety feature, the pool bathhouse is designed with a locking sliding door to prevent access to the pool when a lifeguard is not on duty.

The bathhouse was designed by the architects at Perkins & Will, and built by Eames Construction. The building is clad in redwood lumber salvaged from the trees lost in the wildfires. As new cabins and program spaces are built, they will also have this beautiful and fire-resistant redwood exterior.

Come and join us.

What: Opening of the Enchanted Hills Camp Pool Bathhouse on Facebook Live

Where: LightHouse’s Enchanted Hills Camp Facebook page

When: Saturday, November 14 from 12:30 pm to 1:00 pm

If you are moved to contribute to our ongoing fire rebuild efforts, contact Jennifer Sachs, Director of Development, at JSachs@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7333.

How One Camp Changed the World

How One Camp Changed the World

“I had to fit into this world that wasn’t built for me” says one former camper at Camp Jened. For myself and many others in the disability community, this sentiment rings true at some point in our lives. Luckily for a large group of teenagers from the 1950s through the 1970s, there was a place built for them, called Camp Jened. Thanks to Executive Producers Barack and Michelle Obama, the documentary “Crip Camp” gives us a glimpse into this world and how that unique time led to the disability rights movement as it stands today.

Camp Jened was founded in the 1950s in upper New York as a place for young people with disabilities to experience summer camp and not feel as though they were on the outside looking in, as they often felt at home without basic civil rights in place. The camp was partially funded and supported by the parent led Jened Foundation

Directed and Produced by Nicole Newnham and Jim Libbrecht (a former Jened camper), “Crip Camp” shows incredible footage taken at the camp in 1971 where campers are seen letting loose and being themselves. While they are often overlooked in their communities back home, they are invited to speak freely about themselves into the camera.

We at the LightHouse recognized some of the crucial people documented and interviewed who were in the disability rights movement. Corbett O’Toole has served as the Accessibility Consultant at the Superfest Film Festival run by the LightHouse. Jim LeBrecht is a long-time friend of the LightHouse. In addition, the part of the film documenting the sit-in at the San Francisco Federal Building portrayed our neighboring building as a character in and of itself. We must also give thanks to Dennis Billups, who had an important role in the passing of the 504 document, regulations to the Rehab Act. He has been a speaker at LightHouse and continues advocating for and inspiring future generations in the blindness community.

A ripple effect spread from Camp Jened across the country, emulating the Civil Rights and other movements. “Their efforts contributed many advocates and philosophies to the American disability rights movement”, says Bryan Bashin, CEO of LightHouse for the Blind San Francisco. You could see they took what they learned at camp to the movement, especially at the 1977 sit-in at the Federal Building in San Francisco. In practicing inclusion, they always refused to hold any meeting until a sign language interpreter was present.

Since the time that Camp Jened started in the 1950s, our own Enchanted Hills Camp has been doing its part on the West Coast for decades to advocate for and foster community in the world of blindness and disability.

Enchanted Hills Camp Director Tony Fletcher reflects on EHC in light of this documentary:
“In 1950, Enchanted Hills Camp was founded on the principles of connecting blind youth to nature and recreation. Rose Resnick, (founder of EHC and an important part of the founding of LightHouse for the Blind San Francisco), felt there was a huge deficit on both accounts for blind youth. She herself had a passion for both nature and physical fitness. To get there, however, she knew campers must develop self-confidence, build independent living skills and become productive members of society. Rose did not want blind folks to be taken care of, she wanted blind folks to have the same opportunities as sighted folks to take care of themselves. Camp was not given to Rose. She was an advocate. She fought, fundraised, haggled, recruited and created the vision for the first camp for the blind west of the Mississippi. More importantly, it was founded by a blind person. As a program that walks the walk, we hold true to those very same values today and realize we produce the future leaders of tomorrow. We believe in promotion of independence, but we have learned to do it thru fun. From the building blocks of independence came advocacy and empowerment. Today many professionals in our field have had a connection to Enchanted Hills Camp. Some come as staff or volunteers, some as guests, but many come as campers that have attended Enchanted Hills Camp in one or more programs offered throughout the years.”

Our CEO Bryan Bashin, looks ahead and shares our vision: “As we rebuild our own camp, we hope it will be even more of a crucible in which friendships, idealism and social justice will be forged.”

By taking a pause, Enchanted Hills Camp will help flatten the curve

By taking a pause, Enchanted Hills Camp will help flatten the curve

Dear friends and supporters,

For almost a year, we’ve been preparing for the biggest and most fun-filled summer ever at Enchanted Hills Camp for this, our 70th birthday year. We’ve nearly completed the new pool bathhouse, spiffed up the dining hall and its commercial kitchen, deepened our lake and stocked it with fish and cleared away the last piles of debris from the 2017 fires. We’re on track to begin building a half-dozen replacement cabins in lower camp later this year. We’re also midway through a process with Napa County which will give us the permits we need to finish the camp-wide rebuild after the fire. It’s been such a good year in fact, that we committed to bring the entire world of blind camp leaders to EHC in 2021 to show off what we have built and to lead the field in designing the best blind camp programs anywhere.

Then, just three weeks ago, California counties were shut tight in a massive effort to slow the COVID-19 pandemic. Early reports this week show that the heroic isolation actions by Californians in particular are making a difference in the virus spread.

We at the LightHouse have known for some weeks that a decision was looming about whether the epidemic and government regulations would allow us to host our usual 600-plus blind campers, their families, staff and volunteers this summer. We hoped the epidemic would have burned through California by our traditional June start to our summer season. One-by-one, though, organizations are realizing that it may not be possible to host group events this summer. From the Olympics to the Democratic Convention, from the World Blind Union conference to Wimbledon, and the American Council of the Blind and National Federation of the Blind conventions, most are deferring their group gatherings until next year.

Camp Director Tony Fletcher and LightHouse leadership wrestled with these realities as the weeks dragged on. Could we screen campers entering camp to keep everyone safe? The medical facts are that people can harbor the virus for several days without showing symptoms and be infectious during that time. The virus can linger on surfaces for several days. Could we imagine keeping a six-foot distance between 100 campers and staff all week long? Most importantly, we couldn’t bear the heartache if even one camper contracted COVID at Enchanted Hills. To implement real protective measures at camp, we believe, wouldn’t make it camp at all. The closeness, camp spirit, hand-on-hand instruction, the heartfelt hugs and adventurous athleticism – none of this would be possible under current government guidelines.

Accordingly, in an abundance of effort to keep our community safe, for the first time in 70 years we’ve decided to skip the entire summer sessions of EHC. There will be no gatherings of any kind at camp until September 2020 at the earliest. We’re heartbroken to have to deliver this news to the thousands of people who have thrilled to EHC over the years and will thrill to it again when the epidemic is over.

If you are one of those hundreds of people who have already made reservations for your EHC summer, you have a few options. You can:

  • Get a full refund.
  • Apply your deposit to your stay during the 2021 summer season.
  • Donate what you might have spent at camp to our fire rebuild fund.

And you can participate in several distance camper events via Zoom as you’ll see below.

For information about your personal situation please call Alyah Thomas at 415-694-7345 or email her directly at athomas@lighthouse-sf.org.

With camp closed this summer, we’ve suddenly found a way to make excellent use of the rare circumstance of having camp empty during summer. We now plan to use the season to dig a massive 3,000-foot-long trench to finally underground all the overhead electric wires now strung haphazardly throughout camp. The trench project will remove fire-causing danger from these overhead wires and will give us stable and reliable power not threatened by falling branches and weather. We’ll fill the trench with new high-pressure water mains for fire hydrants, new pipes to service larger water storage tanks, with state-of-the-art optical fiber for reliable phone and internet service and use the new course to help us irrigate parts of camp never before able to be green in summer.

We could never have undertaken this project during a normal camp season, so it’s a small consolation that we’ll be able to start it sooner than planned. The $500,000 trench project will be finished well before we usher in the next wave of campers beginning next year.

All these post-fire reconstruction efforts take money, lots of money. We’re asking our extended community of friends to help with the reconstruction generously. To make camp safe and secure for the next 70 years takes sweat, imagination, and dollars. If you’re in a position to help with a donation or a pledge to our capital campaign, please write our Development Director Jennifer Sachs at jsachs@lighthouse-sf.org or just call her at 415.694.7333. And if you have some very big ideas on how to help camp, please contact me personally.

So, what to do this spring and summer to replace the EHC camp coziness around the campfire, or the easy socializing in the shade? Camp Director Tony Fletcher has the answer for kids, adults and their families. Beginning Saturday, June 6, Tony will host a weekly Saturday evening campfire-by-Zoom. You will be able to gather with Tony and the gang of counselors, volunteers and campers you know from previous sessions: telling stories, catching up and making some new friends. Tony’s first chat will be followed by many others through summer, with gatherings for various ages, personalities, interests and communities. Lighthouse will advertise the times and call-in details as the date approaches.

In the meantime, it’s spring at our camp. The grass is brilliant green, the creeks are running strong, the frogs are croaking and the wildlife abundant. Thousands of redwood seedlings are now eight feet tall after the fire, and visitors say camp has never looked more beautiful. It will be there, stronger and safer than ever when we emerge from our houses, blinking in the sun, and yearning for that special community that will persevere in a place called Enchanted Hills.

Our very best hopes that you stay safe and are well.

Bryan Bashin
CEO
Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, San Francisco

 

 

Reflections from Chancey Fleet, LightHouse’s newest board member, on recent Board Retreat at EHC

Reflections from Chancey Fleet, LightHouse’s newest board member, on recent Board Retreat at EHC

A few weeks ago, the LightHouse Board of Directors held its annual retreat at Enchanted Hills Camp, atop Mount Veeder in Napa. Although I had visited the camp before to take part in a Tactile Arts and Graphics Symposium, this was my first opportunity to visit as a board member, and my first since the devastating fires that swept Mount Veeder in 2017.

Enchanted Hills offers its visitors a chance to disconnect from the chaos of city life, appreciate the peace and rich complexity of the natural world, and focus on fellowship, skill-building and discovery. As they arrive at EHC’s dining hall, visitors find comfortable couches flanking a blazing fireplace, where they might chase away the winter chill with a cup of tea and a leisurely conversation. The kitchen staff who are all blind, provide a warm welcome along with meals that are memorable for the vibrant flavors of locally grown produce and freshly baked bread. The dining hall also features a detailed map of EHC with tactile structures, pathways and labels, so that all people, whether sighted or blind, can refer to it as they learn to feel at home.

Although the dining hall is just as I remembered from my last visit, EHC’s landscape bears reminders of the 2017 wildfires. Some buildings are gone, along with swaths of trees and greenery. Some trees still stand strong and growing, though their bark is singed. The legacy of the fire is a testament to the adaptability of nature and the resilience of the LightHouse staff and community. Already, new platform tent bungalows (simple, clean and filled with light) have been built to replace lost housing. New growth is everywhere: willow trees, quick to grow tall, are already taller than most campers just two years after planting. The camp’s soundscape is peaceful but dynamic: I heard wind through the old trees and the new, innumerable birds, purposeful footsteps and laughter, and the sound of a shovel turning earth as one more willow prepared to take root.

I remembered well the redwood benches in EHC’s amphitheater, each constructed by blind master carpenters and engraved with bold tactile motifs drawn from Napa’s local flora. These benches now hold the names of community members who contributed to EHC’s recovery effort and helped the camp weather its losses without missing even one summer of camp programs. When campers enter the Redwood Grove (whose name is boldly carved in foot-high letters on a redwood’s stump), they will always sit with the legacy of those who ensured that music will ring out in that place for decades yet to come.

Enchanted Hills Camp is a place where everyone, whether blind, sighted or somewhere in between, can build confidence and a sense of belonging while taking on new adventures. As our board screened a retrospective of film shorts captured throughout the camp’s history, we saw generations of kids, families and adults enjoying camp traditions like hiking, swimming, horseback riding and canoeing that still go on today. It’s exciting to be part of the EHC community at a time when the camp is offering even more: sessions for blind artists, musicians and woodworkers, in order to expand the camp’s fundamental mission of fostering community and helping campers explore new challenges with confident blind mentors.

To experience the majesty that is Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat for yourself, why not sign up for a session this summer by exploring the variety of offerings on our camp website? Or plan your own group retreat by visiting our retreat website? Then, stay tuned for details to come about our 70th anniversary of EHC celebration this August 2020.

The best part about blind camp

The best part about blind camp

By Annalisa DiLeonardo, Assistant Director, Enchanted Hills Camp

I’ve been attending Enchanted Hills Camp for nine summers now, seven as part of the staff. I have low vision, but prior to my first summer attending EHC, I’d never really met another person with low vision, except one gentleman in high school.

I owe a lot to EHC for making me into who I am today. In the sighted community I sometimes feel like a fish out of water. At Enchanted Hills I’m with people just like me. Everyone deals with the same challenges and we can share our stories, tips and tricks. We don’t have to worry about what people think of us.

Campers with white canes walk in front of peaceful Lake Lokoya.
Campers with white canes walk in front of peaceful Lake Lokoya.

Each summer, I make a point of taking a step back mentally when we all gather at the campfire together. This year I did my thinking during the dance competition campers have come to enjoy every year. While I could sing many praises to EHC and take many pages to tell you about the great things there, what really blows my mind is how we all come from so many different walks of life but are connected at camp through this one special thing – our blindness. For example, at this year’s Teen Camp session, campers and staff came from parts of the world as diverse as Australia, China and Poland, plus all over the USA. It was so amazing to see the dining hall filled with at least 100 people who are all immersed in the world of blindness in their own special way.

Yes, there are cultural differences between us, but that doesn’t matter at EHC. Language barriers don’t seem to matter either – we all come together to enjoy each other and the wonderful activities camp has to offer. We all “get” each other. This is truly the best part about Enchanted Hills Camp.

As our community knows, in a single afternoon in October 2017, half of Enchanted Hills burned to the ground or experienced fire and smoke damage. You can help us rebuild Enchanted Hills Camp better than ever. Thank you for your support!

A LightHouse Staffer on Re-Visioning Enchanted Hills Camp

A LightHouse Staffer on Re-Visioning Enchanted Hills Camp

LightHouse staffer Erin Horne reflects on Enchanted Hills’ legacy and provides an update from camp.

Over the past couple of years, much of the West Coast has been ravaged by wildfires. Many have lost their lives or their livelihoods. Unfortunately, our beloved Enchanted Hills Camp did not escape the flames. But since the fires, the LightHouse has committed to build back camp better and stronger than ever.

In the weeks, months and years to follow, so many of our friends, community members and large companies which support LightHouse for the Blind and Enchanted Hills Camp have continued to lend their support. LightHouse has been lucky to have so many individuals and groups put out their hand to help us off the ground and rebuild. In addition to countless individuals, people from AmeriCorps, Volkswagen America, The Kiwanis Club of Greater Napa, XL Construction, Rotary Club of Napa and so many others have donated their time and dollars. Rotary Club of Napa’s annual Cycle for Sight bike ride and food and wine festival has continued to support Enchanted Hills. Donations large and small continue to roll in as a reminder that EHC is always in the hearts of many around the world. Any dollar amount of donation is as important as the gesture, which can be made at our website.

Founded in 1950 by Rose Resnick, Enchanted Hills was the first camp of its kind on the West Coast, to fill a void as there was not one recreational facility for blind children to explore, thrive and gain confidence. Owned and managed by the LightHouse, Enchanted Hills retains much of its original character while we make structural improvements to the layout and design of Camp.

Since 2017, our staff has begun working with a team of architects to re-envision Enchanted Hills Camp for the next 70 plus years. How can we preserve the legacy of what EHC has been while also preparing for future generations? What can we dream up for this space for people who are blind to explore their freedom and ambitions? Even though the fires were a tragedy, how can we turn it around as an opportunity? As this planning with architects will continue over the coming years, rebuilding has been happening ever since the firefighters approved re-entry on Mount Veeder after the fires were out in the fall of 2017. Our crews put blood, sweat and tears into ensuring that camp sessions could run in the summer of 2018. Even though we were short ten cabins and other facilities, returning campers hardly noticed; the joyful spirit of a typical summer at camp remained.

Between the summer session of 2018 and 2019, even more crews came to give their time and heart to continue bringing Enchanted Hills back to its shining glory. Thanks to the staff at EHC and LightHouse Headquarters, we have an almost endless rotation of volunteer groups who want to come smell the fresh air of the redwoods and dig in to get dirty for the sake of so many campers whose lives will be changed.

By the time our first summer session of 2019 starts on June 9, we will see a new shade structure by the pool and storage barn complete. The poolside shade structure will surely be a relief to our campers who enjoy the wide variety of outdoor activities all summer long. Having a storage barn will allow our staff to finally have an office again, and provide necessary storage. This summer, Enchanted Hills will be able to offer nine sessions for blind and low vision youth and adults focused on all different areas from two sessions of Family Camp to Woodworking.

Stay tuned as our beloved camp continues to grow over the coming years. Updates on the architectural progress will be forthcoming and there will be countless ways for everyone who has a place in their heart for EHC to participate in its future. Together, we will continue to rise from the ashes because, as we all know, EHC is the place to be!

Essay: A LightHouse staffer on what EHC means to her family

Essay: A LightHouse staffer on what EHC means to her family

By Lisamaria Martinez

Last summer, I had the opportunity to vacation with my family at Enchanted Hills Camp during a Family Camp session. This is the second summer my family and I were able to spend a few glorious days atop of Mt. Veeder, in Napa. We hope to make this annual trek to Napa a family tradition.

I’ve have a unique perspective of camp—as a camper and as an employee of the LightHouse for the Blind. I first started working at the LightHouse in December of 2008, but didn’t step foot onto EHC soil until the summer of 2010. I really missed out those first 18 months. Camp is beautiful and breathtaking and a wonderful place for blind youth and adults to experience life, gain confidence by doing activities they never thought possible, and of course, it is a wonderful place to make new friends.

I’ve been to camp for LightHouse sponsored programs like our 2011 employment summit or our youth leadership retreats. I’ve also been to camp to paint fences, make emergency kits, clean out buildings, and many other beautification projects. They all have been delightful experiences. However, going to camp as a camper beats it all!

I am a blind mom and wife. I have three lovely children who are six years old (Erik), two years old (Zakary), and seven months old (MacKenzy). They all love camp (well, the judgement is still out from the seven month old). Children plus blind person makes my family eligible for family camp, so last year, my husband and I made the decision to try it out. Erik cried when we left camp because he wasn’t ready to go back home.

I remember Erik’s first camp experience at 7 months old. I was there for an Employment Summit and I was lucky enough to stay the night with my family. My husband and I were so anxious about his cries during the night and how he might interrupt the sleep of others residing in the lodge. I also remember our second trip with him about a year later for Cycle for Sight, and how absolutely fascinated and enthralled he was at the frogs and their constant cacophony during the night. He couldn’t sleep because he was amazed at the sounds they made. Needless to say, my husband and I didn’t sleep much that night, but we rode just fine the next day.

Enchanted Hills is a place where new discoveries happen and memories are made. Erik discovered soy milk because a camp staff person told him it tasted like vanilla ice cream. Both Erik and Zakary have discovered foosball at camp. My boys have learned to play with blind kids their own age. They are both sighted but aren’t around many blind kids; adults, yes, but not kids. My children have become more comfortable and confident about swimming. They’ve learned to tie-dye, horseback ride, enjoy hiking in forests, pick wild blackberries, make zucchini pizzas in solar ovens, and they have relished in the freedom that my husband and I have allowed them to experience in a place where everyone is family and everyone looks out for each other.

As a blind mom, I’ve had the chance to talk to blind kids at camp about growing up and being a blind parent someday. They didn’t know that parenting was an option for them because they didn’t know blind people could be parents. I’ve met parents who have blind children and we’ve talked about expectations and raising blind children in a sighted world and I’ve become a resource for them. At camp, I’ve hung out with other blind parents and simply enjoyed the camaraderie while watching our children run wild.

Enchanted Hills Camp is one-of-a-kind and I’m lucky that I can experience it both as an employee and as a camper. As an employee, I have great pride in a world-class camp for blind youth and adults. As a camper, I’m proud to share it with my family and I’m proud to see firsthand the excellence of the camp staff. They are all caring and fun and dedicated to making EHC the place to be.

Now, more than ever, Enchanted Hills needs your support and donations. To give by mobile device, text REBUILDEHC to 501-55.

No amount is too small or insignificant, and every dollar donated will go to ensuring that the coming years will bring new growth and opportunity for our home away from home. Donate here or contact Jennifer Sachs at 415-694-7333 or jsachs@lighthouse-sf.org and tell her you want to help “Rebuild EHC” to learn more about providing dedicated funds to rebuild and re-open camp to the public.

Essay: A Google web developer on how EHC awakened her to the importance of accessibility

Essay: A Google web developer on how EHC awakened her to the importance of accessibility

By Raisa Cuevas

I was 11 years old when my uncle asked me to accompany him to Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind. I would be one of few sighted individuals at this gathering, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I grew up assisting Uncle B while walking around the city or doing small tasks around the house, but this was the first time I would be the minority amongst dozens of visually impaired attendees. I was a bit nervous, but I knew that my companionship would mean a lot to Uncle B.

At the camp, I spent much of my time joining my uncle in outdoor activities. One of the first things I remember is him suggesting we go pedal-boating in the lake. “But Uncle B, I can’t swim,” I anxiously warned. The thought of getting on the water terrified me. What if my uncle steers us into a rock and the boat tips over? How will I save him, much less save myself? “We’ll be fine,” he reassured us. I had no idea where he got this confidence, but I trusted him and helped us put on our life jackets.

We pedaled away for a good hour or so in the warm California sun. The water was so calm that I realized how irrational my fears were. Just as were my initial fears of attending the camp in the first place.

Throughout the day, I was challenged with interacting with the other attendees. I was already a shy kid to begin with, so it wasn’t easy reaching out for a chat with people who I wasn’t sure I completely understood. Most of the time I spent silently observing the laughter and happy conversations going on around me. People were making jokes, singing campfire songs, and living completely in the moment. I envied their ability to be fully present and uninhibited while my own mind was busy trying to take everything in.

I looked into the eyes of kids my age and wondered what different challenges they faced in their everyday lives. I looked at the older men and women, noticing their wandering eyes and bright smiles that carried a confidence and wisdom which truly fascinated me. This camp created a beautiful sense of community between people of all ages and abilities.

I didn’t think of it this deeply as the naive preteen at the time, but looking back, I’m so grateful to have experienced this at such a young age. Through this and other life lessons from my Uncle B, I’ve developed a stronger empathy for others and appreciation for my own abilities. I’ve opened up my mind to new experiences, trying my best to immerse myself in them completely.

Building websites for accessibility

More recently, I’ve realized how strongly my firsthand experience with the blind has helped me advocate for accessibility in my everyday work. As a web developer at Google, I carry a massive responsibility to build websites that are accessible to people of all abilities, languages, and network conditions. It’s not easy to address all these needs at once, but it’s important not to leave out any set of users when your audience is in the billions. Thankfully, my close relationship with Uncle B has helped me understand the needs of visually impaired individuals and to think critically about the experiences of other marginalized groups, as well.

For many years, Uncle B has been an active member of LightHouse for the Blind, the nonprofit organization that runs Enchanted Hills Camp. Since 1902, they have provided education, training, advocacy, and community for blind individuals like him. Through LightHouse, Uncle B learned much of his professional skills that allowed him to start his own business. This was five years after our experience at Enchanted Hills Camp. And when Uncle B asked his favorite niece to come work for him, of course I said yes.

I was employed as the bookkeeper, and I assumed this meant being his personal assistant as well. Although I didn’t mind bringing him tea and coffee, ordering books on Amazon, paying his bills on the phone, or whatever random task he’d ask of me, I continually found myself fascinated by how much he was able to do on his own. I often watched in amazement as he navigated the computer with special techniques like zoom software, a screen reader, inverted high contrast, and handy keyboard shortcuts. For quick personal notes that he didn’t want to keep in a Microsoft Word document, he typed them speedily on his old-school braille typewriter. He labelled buttons on his telephone, keyboard, and other electronic devices with textured stickers to help identify the keys. He read books at his desktop magnifier, which zoomed very closely and presented the inverted image on a high-contrast screen. His level of vision was very low, but fortunately he learned to be effective in an office environment through the help of LightHouse.

Through most of my bookkeeping responsibilities, I spent a lot of time at the computer with Uncle B at my side, and he instructed me to write Excel formulas for his monthly operating reports and inventory records. He would walk me through the steps as if he was looking at the screen with me. On breaks, we discussed our love for technology, his admiration for Warren Buffett, and other topics that enlightened and inspired me.

The lessons I learned from Uncle B have truly influenced the way I approach accessibility in my work. By observing the unique ways that he interacts with technology, it’s now second nature for me to think of the needs of different audiences when it comes to building a website or other digital experience. I proudly speak up for these users when stakeholders or team members overlook accessibility requirements for a project. It’s rewarding to share this knowledge with my colleagues and see them start to understand the importance of accessibility, thinking about it at earlier stages of projects.

It’s easy to overlook the needs of visually impaired users if you don’t have firsthand experience, but it’s not hard to learn ways to be more inclusive of everyone. There are millions of technology users across the world with various disabilities, including visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive. These people are using your products, and many are intelligent, committed business owners like my uncle.

Rebuilding Enchantment Hills

I feel passionately for the services that LightHouse for the Blind provides, and how they helped my uncle succeed. I admire their commitment to providing valuable resources to the blind community in California and around the world. When I found that Enchanted Hills had been burnt down in the Napa fires, I was devastated. That’s why I donated to #RebuildEHC, in hopes of restoring this unique and empowering place of retreat. And in my daily work, I continue to advocate for an inclusive and accessible web.